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Strong winds whip up Colorado fire

Hayman fire
Smoke billows from the southeast corner of the Hayman wildfire outside of Woodland Park, Colorado, Thursday.  

LAKE GEORGE, Colorado (CNN) -- After two days of favorable weather, fire officials battling the Hayman fire in Colorado said Saturday that conditions are getting worse.

Fire officials had expected wind gusts of up to 35 mph, but as of 11 a.m. (1 p.m. ET), the winds had already exceeded 40 mph, said Bobby Kitchens, a fire information officer. Worsening winds could reduce firefighters' ability to use planes to fight the blaze from above, said Kitchens.

"I'm pretty tense, because the test is coming. I can feel it right now," he told reporters as the wind whipped up in Lake George.

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To make matters worse, the relative humidity is dropping and there was a threat Saturday afternoon of lightning strikes, potentially causing more fires in the area, said Kitchens.

The Hayman fire, which had grown to about 137,000 acres as of Friday, was about 60 percent contained as of Saturday, but Kitchens said he would not be surprised if that percentage fell.

Firefighters aren't expecting weather conditions to improve before the end of the weekend. "Tomorrow will be a carbon copy of today," he said.

Fire crews have been able to gain ground over the last two days and are in better shape to face Saturday's conditions than they were when the blaze originally broke out, under similar conditions, on June 8.

The Hayman area of Colorado's Pike National Forest remains under a "red flag warning," which indicates extreme fire danger.

While fires in Colorado and others in Arizona remain a top priority for firefighters in the region, Kitchens cited a total of 17 uncontained fires burning across the country, which also require multiple resources.

Fire teams battling the Hayman fire in central Colorado are trying to keep the flames from heading south, toward populated areas, but with ever-increasing winds, and weather conditions not expected to improve until Monday at the earliest, Kitchens said "I won't be surprised if we lose (ground) in some places."

"With a red flag warning," he said, "we have to be at the top of our game."

A van carrying firefighters from Oregon to help fight the Hayman fire crashed Friday in western Colorado, killing four people and injuring several others. (Full story)

-- CNN's Mark Potter contributed to this report.




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